GENERAL APPEARANCE: The Pittvale Service Station situated on the busy Romsey Road (A3090) one of the main entry routes into Winchester is just over a mile from the city.
FORECOURT: Although set back in a slight hollow by the side of the road, the site is quite visible. The Murco-branded pole and canopy clearly identify the enterprise.
Access to the four islands of pumps is good. Fuel prices are competitive, matching local supermarkets (Sainsbury and Tesco) for unleaded and just 1ppl more for diesel.
The pole advertises ’van hire’ and ’workshop’ but says nothing about the shop. However an A-board on the verge by the roadside states "Stop here for drinks, tobacco, sweets and drinks". Display boards also advertise the sale of ice cream and two local papers.
There is a large cage of Calor Gas containers. An outside customer toilet is available it was in need of a clean. Up-front shop offers include a number of horticultural trolleys containing a wide range of plants. Seeds and compost are also available as are cut flowers and well-filled hanging baskets. Large sacks of Cornish new potatoes are part of a range of fresh produce.
SHOP: The fascia simply states ’Shop’. It’s a small unit in need of redecorating and merchandising but it includes some surprises.
It stocks the basic lines soft drinks, tobacco, confectionery and crisps as promoted on the A-board. Basic top-up lines food-to-go (sandwiches, wraps, savoury products); a microwave and Nescafé & Go drinks machine are all available. The local papers are available as are a small range of daily papers that I suspect they buy in from another retailer.
There is a good range of car care, lubricants and motor requisites.
Then for the surprises. About two-thirds of the rear wall, in cool cabinets, is a great range of produce. All look pretty fresh and many are ticketed ’English’ and may well be local.
A range of local bakery products, milk and free-range eggs (including duck and geese) are also available.
The one member of staff in the shop was helpful and friendly.
PROGNOSIS: The recent publication of the annual Grocery Retail Structure report indicates that the convenience store sector is still generating strong sales and that symbol group retailers continue to grow in numbers and sales up 9.2%. Also that the unaffiliated small store sector is still in decline.
The usual advice to independent retailers is to consider developing a partnership with a major symbol group and create a further point of difference for the business by marketing a range of local products.
But in the case of Pittvale Service Station this may not be the best answer to drive more sales.
DIAGNOSIS: Pittvale Service Station is located close to some pretty dense housing. However, these households are well served with shops ranging from a Sainsbury supermarket to a Londis with a Post Office and a One Stop. And the vast majority of potential shoppers would need to drive to Pittvale rather than walk to their nearest shop. So the challenge is to encourage the use of Pittvale as a destination shop.
PRESCRIPTION: As ever fuel prices are important and, despite the pressure on margins, staying competitive with the local supermarket is important.
The introduction of an ATM will stimulate non-fuel sales. Opposite the Pittvale site is one of Winchester’s popular golf clubs. One way to attract players to the forecourt could be to include a car wash service. There is plenty of space on the forecourt so a ’hand wash’ service at weekends could be successful.
Shoppers are still flocking to small shops to buy localproducts and Pittvale stocks a great range. The challenge is to inform potential shoppers. Ads in local community halls and a handbill given to customers would help promote the range and specific offers. Also a line of A-boards along the verge with a simple message promoting each category should pay dividends.
Currently the forecourt is a little unkempt and a management drive to smarten up the site/toilet would be a worthwhile investment.